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  guest house paradiso - soundtrack review

Guest House Paradiso
POV Records 1103

Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson's anarchic comedy Bottom quickly earned a strong cult following when first aired on the BBC a decade ago, although it took much longer than fans hoped to be translated to the big screen. Unfortunately, when Guest House Paradiso (1999) finally appeared it was to universally bad reviews, disappointing critics and fans alike. It was obvious that the comedians' work, once away from the tautness and discipline required by television production, had grown unfocussed. The sad cinematic result was a mishmash of inspired strokes, hobbled by sorry script and staging, with none of the punch of the small screen original.
   How pleasing it is then to report on the soundtrack album, which, particularly in the context of that which inspired it, proves a joy. This is score a million miles away from the big John Williams type orchestral sound, sometimes favoured by Hollywood. Sometimes recalling Alain Roman's genial, laidback music for Les Vacances de M. Hulot (1953), at other times the big band wildness of, say, Mike Westbrook, Towns' reedy music will come as a surprise to those who have heard his earlier work on CD - the elegant pastiche of Buccaneers for example, or his gritty futuristic score for The Puppet Masters.
   For scoring Guest House Paradiso, apparently at the suggestion of director/co-star Edmondson, Towns went back to his first love of jazz, accompanying the film's crazed action with 'psycho-lounge' music. In 1990 Towns founded the Mask Orchestra, an 18-piece big band, who have recorded several non-soundtrack CDs, and it they who play here. Indeed Towns and his band are so at ease with the balmy world inhabited by inept hoteliers Richard Twat (Mayall), Eddie Elizabeth Ndingombaba (Edmondson) and various unfortunates, that one cannot imagine the plot action occurring without the music – a sure sign of great film scoring. On screen, Towns' work was affected by tacky sound effects, loud dialogue and ugly visuals. Here, untrammeled by such considerations, it finds its own level, described aptly by Edmundson as 'staccato excitement'.
   Also included in the 45-minute album are brief dialogue selections from the film, benefiting immensely from their appearance amidst Towns’ vivid instrumentation. Their running order loosely follows the plot. For instance, both the album and film begin with the ring of Mayall’s alarm clock, and his brief complaint is done to Town’s establishing five minutes 23 seconds track ‘Guest House Paradiso Loungettes’. This main title music is particularly suited to the persona of the louche, sleazy owner. Towns’ music is always characterful and apt. For instance, listen to his ‘Happy Hour’, accompanying the lock-in at the guest house, with all of its appropriately slurred notes on the horn, or the fun in the final ‘I Don’t Feel Well’.
   Hélène Mahieu (an actress familiar to many UK TV viewers from her role in the Renault Clio adverts) plays the love interest 'Gina Carbonara'. She has a sophistication and a sensual voice to match, deliberately at odds with Rik and Ade’s world. The incongruity of her dignified request to see 'Mr Twat' ("It’s pronounced 'Twaite'!" insists the hotelier), echoed later by the equally seductively sounding Fenella Fielding, is effective and amusing. Another dialogue highlight is Twat’s furtive plea for help to his co-manager: "Eddie! I’m trapped in the bedside cabinet in room number 6!". Such moments attain a humour and surreality that was frequently sabotaged by the film’s heavy handedness. Throughout the album, many of the best moments are distilled in such well chosen dialogue, adding to an already very pleasurable and satisfying listening experience. It is a tribute to the composer’s amplification of mood and dialogue that Guest House Paradiso now seems funnier in retrospect than it ever was, or could be, on screen.

review by Richard Bowden

DOWSE Guide to the Movies is compiled by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press
You can order videos and DVD releases reviewed on these pages at Blackstar

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